It sounds to me like there is an issue with soil contact with the seeds you planted. This would explain why the soil in the plug holes germinated seed. The straw is a good idea if you irrigate often. You might try adding a nice 3way soil blend at half inch in problem areas over the seed for improving soil contact. Always use staw not hay which has seeds. Birds dont like large circular mirror balls from home improvement store, or statues of owls and hawks. Temporary sprinkler systems should be used for first 2 weeks.
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